Bhante G, a buddhist monk residing in Washington D.C found out that his mother was gravely ill and would die sometime in the next few days. He immediately hopped on a plane and started heading towards his native Sri Lanka. After making a pit stop in Hawaii, he switched planes to a jumbo jet. Two hours into his flight over the vast pacific ocean, he looked out the window and noticed one of the engines was on fire!
The pilots voice came on over the intercom and said that they would be turning around immediately and would hopefully be making it back to Hawaii, giving instructions on what to do in case of an emergency landing. As you can imagine, there was panic on board. People weeping, couple’s kissing, the fear of death plastered over the faces of all the passengers. Except Bhante G. Bhante G was having a grand ol’ time.
Bhante G had reasoned to himself that if he was going to die, being afraid wasn’t going to prevent him from dying, so he might as well keep his mind calm and clear. He thought to himself that he bad been doing a lot of good deeds recently and didn’t have any regrets, he thought of the moment as a good opportunity to meditate on the concept of impermanence and let go of his attachment to life.
I’ll let Bhante G explain the rest in his own words from his wonderful book “Eight Mindful Steps To Happiness”. The most clear and modern explanation of the Noble Eightfold Path out there.
“I felt no fear.I actually enjoyed watching the flames come out of the engine at 39,000 feet! The flames were blue, yellow, and red. You seldom see such blue flames. Sometimes they were streaming out; sometimes they were low. They looked like fireworks or the aurora borealis. While I was enjoying the drama, the hundred other people on the plane were suffering terribly. I looked at the other passenger’s from time to time and saw the agony they suffered from the very thought of death. They seemed to be dead almost before they died….
…We did make it back to Hawaii and the plane made an emergency landing. We went out the emergency doors as instructed, sliding down the chutes. Going down the chute was an entirely new experience for me. Perhaps everyone else on the plane had at least down a playground slide in their childhood, but I had never done such a thing in the poor village where I grew up. Thus right up to the end, I enjoyed it all very much.”
Let’s recap what was going on in this man’s life..
1. His mother was on her deathbed and he was flying halfway around the world to see her die.
2. As he is flying over the largest ocean on the planet the plane catches on fire and there is a decent chance that it is going to go down and everyone will perish. Can you even imagine the terror you would be experiencing on a plane that was about to crash over the Pacific ocean? What would you be thinking about? All the things you have yet to do in life, how you don’t want to die, how your poor mother is not only dying, but she might find our right before her death that her son died in a plane crash on the way to see her. How you would never see x,y,z person again. It would be absolutely terrifying.
3. Yet this man has such strong control over his own thoughts and emotions that he rationalizes that negative thoughts aren’t going to help him and decides to instead keep a calm mind and focus on the beauty of the flames!
Oh the power of meditation! Keep this in mind the next time you are stuck in traffic, bogged down in work or think you are in some other situation that is ‘just awful’ and ‘couldn’t possibly keep a positive attitude’. Just remember this story, think about the time that plane crash landed in Hawaii and of all the terrified passengers going down the slide, getting off and running away as fast as possible in case the engine blew up just as they were instructed. Meanwhile, here is this old, bald Sri Lankan man wearing the red and orange robes of a monk and he is going down the slide like “WEEEEE”..